How do successive waves of pioneers and investors build the conditions for land-use frontiers to emerge?

This blog post is based on Kronenburg García et al. 2022 and this Twitter thread

Thick ethnographic study in Niassa (Mozambique). Niassa is often described as the “forgotten” province of Mozambique – large, remote, sparsely populated, poor; but has also been “marketed” by the government as a land of opportunities with abundant natural resources and available land.

We trace the successive waves of actors that arrived in Niassa with different backgrounds, motives and business practices to establish farms or plantations – missionary farmers, white South African commercial farmers, large-scale forestry plantations. All repeatedly failed or have been struggling a lot, but leave sediments – legacies – that add up to gradually build the conditions for a frontier to emerge, and to give rise to a new wave by actors from within the region.

This new endogenous wave builds on legacies including social networks, financial capital, brownfields, legible land tenure, supporting institutions and policies, ways of dealing with land conflicts, and inclusive and diversifying business approaches.

What will happen next? The context in Northern Mozambique remains extremely difficult for both subsistence and commercial activities, navigating the trade-offs between deforestation and environmental concerns, livelihoods & development requires going beyond simplistic views and also investigating in a more nuanced way the perspective of these “investors”, often caricatured.

Theoretically, here’s what we argue in the final bits of the Conclusion..:
“… over time, through what may appear as stagnating regions, failures, or boom and bust cycles, legacies may accumulate to gradually change the conditions for a frontier to emerge (…) What previous frontier theories (…) would tend to consider as “noise,” or small irregularities largely irrelevant for the broader frontier pattern, may in fact constitute key dynamics to understand the mechanisms of frontier emergence (…) Gradual accumulation of legacies often remains unnoticed, and can (…) explain sudden transformations and seemingly surprising non-linear land-use transitions or regime shifts when these conditions overcome some tipping points…”

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